Opinion: Four strategies for filling the talent pipeline

For years, economists and workforce experts have warned us about the crippling effects the nation’s chronic labor shortage will have on the economy. Development projects will become more expensive and time-consuming, they said. Companies will be forced to forgo expansions and delay new product launches due to the lack of skilled workers, they predicted. 

As it turns out, the experts were right. The lack of skilled workers is impacting economic expansion for families and industry alike.

For more than a year, the number of open jobs each month has been higher than the number of people looking for work — the first time that’s happened since the Department of Labor began tracking job turnover two decades ago. 

According to the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM), more than 80 percent of manufacturers report they cannot find workers to fill skilled production jobs. The inability to attract and retain employees remained the top concern for the fifth consecutive quarter according to the NAM Manufacturers’ Outlook Survey released March 5th. 

In Arizona, a state teeming with economic growth, there are 15,000 unfilled positions in the manufacturing and computer systems sector, according to a new report, Equity & Attainment: Achieving Two Goals with One Policy, from the Arizona Chamber Foundation. Many of the open positions require an industry certification in addition to or rather than a postsecondary degree. 

The roots of a strong workforce development pipeline take hold in the K-12 education system and expand into technical schools, community colleges and universities. The dots must connect.

To that end, the Arizona Manufacturers Council (AMC) supports a multi-prong approach that includes the creation of new workforce development programs, incentives for earning in-demand industry certifications and early college credit, and doing more to ensure effective schools and educators receive our attention and support.

Four innovative education and workforce policy reforms currently underway include:

Technology and Innovation Workforce Fund and Program 

House Bill 2657, the Technology and Innovation Workforce Fund, would create new job opportunities in the technology industry throughout the state. Sponsored by Rep. Jeff Weninger, R-Chandler, the bill would establish a Technology and Innovation Workforce Fund. The recipients would have performance expectations to ensure a return on investment for the economy.

Through the Fund, the Arizona Commerce Authority can distribute grants to community colleges to create or enhance training programs for in-demand, competitive wage jobs. This includes the kind of career and technical education programs and courses needed for high-paying manufacturing and computer operations jobs. 

The bill defines a “qualifying provider” as a community college, private postsecondary technical college, or employer-based training program that provides job training and education for high-needs, competitive wage industries.

H.B. 2657 includes a $2M appropriation. This bill is up for consideration as part of the final 2020 budget plan.

Results-based funding for K-12 education. 

Results-Based Funding provides additional dollars to Arizona’s most effective schools, with an emphasis on the top schools serving high poverty students. Approved by lawmakers in 2016, the policy incentivizes public schools – traditional district, magnet, and charter – to grow their impact and serve more students. Until Results-Based Funding, not a single dollar went to schools and classrooms expressly because they were successfully closing the achievement gap for students. In order to be prepared to compete for their dream job and to meet workforce demands, Arizona students must have access to a great school. This policy helps to achieve that need. With only a third of all high poverty schools moving the needle for students, we must invest in their future success and expansions. 

Teacher bonuses for graduates earning in-demand industry certifications.

Gov. Doug Ducey’s FY2020 budget proposed funding a teacher bonus for every high school graduate who has also earned an in-demand industry certification, such as engineering or computer coding. The Chamber Foundation’s research found that industry certifications in high demand fields expose students to opportunities that can prepare them for entry-level jobs or training and help them identify the right career paths. These experiences increase the likelihood of postsecondary completion and are also critical to meeting the demand for skilled workers in Arizona’s growing tech economy. 

Teacher bonuses for students passing college credit-earning exams. 

The Legislature passed a bill with bipartisan support that would change a state program that awards teachers bonus money based on the number of students in their class who pass a qualifying exam for college credit. H.B. 2176, sponsored by Rep. Jeff Weninger, R-Chandler, allows the bonuses to go to educators who previously taught the student in relevant courses leading up to their Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate, or Cambridge course, and not just the educator teaching the course. The bill also embeds deadlines in to the program so that teachers and schools receive the incentive funding in a timely manner.

As new technologies emerge and industries continue to evolve, maintaining a skilled workforce will be critical to Arizona’s future economic success. Putting dollars towards expanding and sustaining excellent schools, teachers and workforce programs will only help to alleviate future skilled labor shortages. 

Allison Gilbreath is the Executive Director of the Arizona Manufacturers Council. 

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